This Is Living at Trafalgar StudiosCultureTheatre
Whilst conceptually lurking in the world of (grim) fantasy, Liam Borrett’s This Is Living is rooted in the banal yet utterly alien tragedy of everyday life. Returning again and again to the place where his young wife Alice died, Michael finds himself talking to her corpse (or ghost? Or dream?) as the couple try and navigate what it means to say goodbye, and how to raise a child in the shadow of parental death.
Simple lighting cues are used to shift between the pair’s brutal present and their romantic past, Borrett (who wrote and directed the play) carefully scripting the piece so this temporal trickiness fuses into one seamless expression of life and death. Yet, while the change yields moments of startling power, at times laughter (for this is a remarkably funny play) can bleed into the next scene, causing some of the quieter passages to be lost as the audience tries to catch up.
The earthy, elemental staging sees Tamla Kari’s Alice traipse about a slick, jet-black surface, gradually becoming more and more sodden, smeared in dirt and dried blood. Decay haunts the heart of the narrative and the various stages of the couple’s relationship, from meet-cute to parenthood, all gain added poignancy thanks to the constant visual reminder of Alice’s fate. The spartan set design serves to reinforce the loss Michael and Alice have suffered and the musical choices equally help add to the lived-in nature of the relationship. Tragedy and joy are sound-tracked as they would be in real life: by the blaring of a wedding disco, by whatever is on the radio, by the tinny speakers of a knackered phone.
Though the darkness of This Is Living’s hook may be the most immediate aspect of the play, what is truly memorable is the luminous warmth produced by its central performances. Tamla Kari excels in the play’s comedic scenes, her pre-death Alice a burst of ferocious energy. It makes it all the more heart-breaking as that energy is lost, Kari portraying a body wracked with physical and emotional agony. Michael Socha, meanwhile, finds a quiet specificity that, at its best, transcends the space to provide a window into something raw and pure. Together Kari and Socha capture not only the couple’s love, but their friendship. It can be easy to eke emotion out of tragedy, it is far harder to draw bittersweet tears of happiness, and in the play’s best moments there is a sweetness that eclipses, however briefly, the well of pain at its core.
This Is Living is on at Trafalgar Studios from 17th May until 11th June 2016, for further information or to book visit here.